Jirandy Lahitte sat in his one-week-old Honda Civic waiting for his friend to come out of her house when he saw someone walking up to his driver’s side window.
They exchanged nods.
Before Jirandy knew what was happening, the man reached into his pants and pulled a gun. Lahitte leaned forward — out of instinct — to protect his face.
Then there was a flash.
Lahitte had been shot in the back. He couldn’t feel his legs, but threw the car into drive. He managed to stop a few blocks away.
“The adrenaline took over,” he said. “It was fight or flight.”
The rest of the life-changing ordeal is a blur. He later learned that the bullet had pierced his spine, paralyzing him from the chest down. He stayed in the hospital from the day he was shot, Aug. 28, 2015, until just before New Year’s Day 2016.
“It’s still hard to accept,” he said. “I still wake up in the morning sometimes and forget I can’t walk.”
Because of a random act of violence on a Southwest Miami-Dade street, he went from a 23-year-old who had just been promoted to a store manager at T-Mobile and who loved the gym to someone who couldn’t walk, move or take care of himself. Getting around his own home was now a challenge because of random steps, narrow doorways and high shelves.
Lahitte’s injury has not only been tough on him, but it has also put a strain on his father, Carlos, who works as an accountant at a home healthcare company and struggles to make ends meet.
“He had such a bright future,” said Carlos Lahitte, as he started to cry. “Then this happened and screwed everything up.”
The man who detectives say shot Lahitte, Dravein “Pop” Duke, is awaiting trial. Duke is also accused of shooting and killing 7-year-old Amiere Castro several months later. Amiere was hit by a stray bullet inside a Richmond Heights home.
But meanwhile, the Lahittes are left to figure out life with more limitations.
As a dad, Carlos Lahitte said it’s so hard to see his son be stuck at home and dependent on other people to do simple tasks. A refrigerator, a retrofitted bathroom and a ramp would help the younger Lahitte do more for himself. Jarindy Lahitte also would love to be able to attend more therapy sessions but the cost is prohibitive.
“Anything would help at this point,” said Carlos Lahitte.
Michael Salem, who works with S.T.E.P.S. in the Right Direction, Inc., a non-profit organization that helps improve the quality of life for underserved communities, said he nominated Jarindy Lahitte for the Miami Herald’s Wishbook program because of his positive attitude and determination.
“I think getting some help will really lift his spirits,” Salem said.
Lahitte says it is the basic things he misses most. He can’t reach the faucet in his bathroom to splash water on his face. He hasn’t been able to see himself in the mirror in the three years he has been using a wheelchair because it is too high. Sometimes his food spoils because the little donated fridge by his bed doesn’t always work. There are times the old donated hospital bed fails to work.
His dad says he does his best. Lahitte’s stepmom stays home to help Jirandy Lahitte. With one paycheck coming in, there isn’t a lot of extra money to spend on repairs and equipment.
The only time Lahitte leaves the house is when he participates in medical trials at the University of Miami. He can drive himself because his dad scraped enough money together to install hand controls in his car.
Leaving the house is difficult. He has no feeling below his chest and has trouble controlling normal body functions. He eventually wants to go back to school.
What keeps Lahitte going is his determination to walk one day.
“I don’t know how,” he said. “But I will somehow get out of this chair.”
How to help: Wish Book is trying to help hundreds of families in need this year. To donate, pay securely at MiamiHerald.com/wishbook. For information, call 305-376-2906 or email wishbook@MiamiHerald.com. (The most requested items: laptops and tablets for school, furniture, accessible vans.) Read more at Miamiherald.com/wishbook .